Our Patrons

Katie FfordeI’m Katie Fforde and have written over 25 novels. I was told about ABC by my good friend Julie Cohen who I’ve known, loved and respected since her early days as a writer. Reading has always been important to me as have libraries.

When I was a child books were really expensive and without libraries my reading habit would have been unsustainable. Fortunately my father shared this need for books and he took us to the library daily during the school holidays.

Anything I can do to help young readers is a joy and an obligation.

A.F. HarroldA.F. Harrold is a poet, performer and children’s novelist who has lived in Reading for the last 25 years. He’s a regular visitor in schools, talking about poetry and about his books, such as the hilarious Fizzlebert Stump and Greta Zargo series.

He’s also written some stranger, spookier novels (9+), such as the award-winning books The Imaginary and The Song from Somewhere Else, illustrated by Kate Greenaway Medal winning Emily Gravett and Levi Pinfold respectively. With his background in slam poetry and comedy he is a lively and interactive performer and has been the guest of literary festivals around the UK and abroad. He has a beard and a hat and a website: www.afharroldkids.com

What do you want people to know about you?Julie Cohen

I’m a writer, and the author of many books for adults, including DEAR THING, which was a featured Richard and Judy Book Club book. I’m also a tutor of creative writing, and before that, I taught secondary school English for ten years. And before that, I moved from my native USA to the UK because I loved studying English books. But I never would have done any of this if I hadn’t first been a reader. To me, reading is magical—it’s the doorway to infinite experience and knowledge, and it’s also good fun. And it’s shaped my entire life.

I live in Reading with my husband and young son, in a house full of books.

What is your role at ABC to read?

Patron of ABC to read.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?

My local writing group, Reading Writers, decided to donate the proceeds of our latest anthology to the charity, and I was delighted to be asked to be a patron.

What do you want people to know about you?Dan Freedman

Before becoming an author, I worked as football journalist, travelling to two World Cups with the England Team and interviewing the likes of Messi and Ronaldo. I love talking about books, writing and football and spend much of my time visiting schools all over the country.

For more info, please check out

web: www.DanFreedman.co.uk

twitter: @danfreedman99

Praise for the Jamie Johnson series

‘An inspiring read for all football fans’

Gary Lineker

‘You’ll read this and want to get out there and play’

Steven Gerrard

What is your role at ABC to read?

Patron of ABC to read.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?

I’m delighted to be working with ABC to read. As a children’s author who regularly works with reluctant readers, I’m right behind everything that Marcia and the team are trying achieve.

James CarterJAMES CARTER is an award-winning children’s poet and non-fiction/educational writer. He is the author of over 15 popular and best-selling poetry titles. James travels all over the UK and abroad with his guitar (that’s Keith) and melodica (that’s Steve) to give very lively poetry/music performances and workshops. He is a former lecturer in Creative Writing/Children’s Literature at Reading University. In the last 15 years he has visited over 1000 Primary schools and performed at various prestigious literary festivals including Cheltenham, Hay and Edinburgh jamescarterpoet.co.uk

Our Trustees

What do you want people to know about you? Paul Dieppe

My name is Paul Dieppe. I am 64 years old, married, and a proud grandad of 4 grand children. I was born in London and moved to Cookham in 1954. I was educated at Maidenhead Grammar School and then went to the West  Midlands to train as a teacher. I then came back to Berkshire and spent the next 41 years teaching in Berkshire Schools before I took early retirement in 2011. For the last 22 years I was head teacher of a very large Slough primary school with over 720 pupils. It had its own Children’s Centre and I had over 120 staff. We had over 34 languages in the school and many children had problems with reading.

I didn’t really enjoy reading until I was about 9, when the book “Bambi” turned on all my emotions (it made me cry) and I could see the pictures in my head for the first time. The Library then became a place where each Saturday I could lose myself in books like the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. The only problem was that I did not want to take them back and was always getting fines. I now have a love of books both physically and in e-form with my trusted Kindle. I believe that every child should have the same opportunities to read and I believe passionately that reading is the key to success and I am sure all our volunteers feel the same.

What is your role at ABC to read?

I had VRH  volunteers in the school to help with reading for many years and when they decided to pull out of Berkshire I helped in the setting up of “ABC to read” and became one of the founding trustees and have remained a trustee since then.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?

On my retirement I volunteered my services to “ABC to read” and began helping with the training of volunteers. This has now developed into being responsible for training, setting up a training team and devising new courses that we can sell to provide money to support our core business of training volunteers and putting them in schools to help children with their reading.

What do you want people to know about you?Pauline Harper

I spend a lot of time travelling, running, meeting friends and visiting exhibitions. As a teacher I have always been passionate and committed to improving literacy and have been supporting an English language teaching programme Tanzania for more than 10 years. ABC to Read is a great way of indulging my passion and making a difference for children who might not otherwise have the one to one support that is so beneficial.

What is your role at ABC to read?

I am a trustee.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?

I looked on the Volunteer Just Do It website and heard about the work of ABC to Read in local schools.

Which is your favourite children’s and adult’s book?

My favourite children’s book is ‘Peace at Last’ by Shirley Hughes; my adult choice is more difficult, I will choose ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ by Harper Lee.

What do you want people to know about you?Steve Smith

My name is Steve Smith. I have a degree in Agricultural Botany from Reading University. I have two children; James works for a biotechnology company and Sam is a Will and Probate Solicitor for a local law firm. I also have two young grandchildren who love books and me reading to them.

I spent my career in the pharmaceutical industry developing new therapies in dermatology and immunology. In 1996 I completed an MBA and in 1999 set up my own drug development company. The company expanded rapidly and in 2006 I sold it to a US Company. In 2009 I set up a quality assurance company (2009). In 2020 I retired leaving the running of the business to the existing management team.

What is your role at ABC to read?

I am the Treasurer and a Trustee of the charity.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?

After selling my business I was looking for voluntary roles in the charity sector where I could use my financial and business expertise. The role of Treasurer was advertised as the current Treasurer was wanting to step down. I was married to a primary school teacher and my sister and mother were primary school teachers. Through them I fully understand the importance of reading and literacy and so the charity appealed to me.

Which are your favourite children’s and adult’s book?

I have no favourite children’s books as it was too long ago! However, I remember ‘The Blue Balloon’ by Mick Inkpen being a favourite of my boys when they were young.

I have many favourite adult books but perhaps my favourite of all time is ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks.

What do you want people to know about you?

Mike EdwardsBorn and raised in Enfield, Middlesex, I arrived in Reading at the age of eighteen to train as a teacher… and I’ve never escaped! I am married with three grown-up children and have worked as both a secondary teacher of German and as a primary teacher in four of Berkshire’s six unitary authority areas. I also represented Berkshire on the National Executive of a major teaching union. For ten years, I was headteacher of New Town Primary School, Reading before taking on a succession of shorter-term interim headships in West Berkshire and West Oxfordshire. I took early retirement at the end of 2011, so I now have more time to devote to voluntary work with ABC to read and the Scouts and have recently returned to choral singing after a gap of over thirty years.

What is your role at ABC to read?

I have been a trustee of ABC to read since it was founded in 2004 and currently have special responsibility for safeguarding.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?

As headteacher of a school in a challenging area and which was facing an uphill struggle to raise standards for its children, I despaired when the national charity that supported reading volunteers in Berkshire suddenly closed down, just before Christmas, leaving volunteers, staff, schools and, most importantly, children in the lurch. I decided to channel my indignation into something positive and was flattered to be invited to become one of ABC to read’s first trustees.

What do you want people to know about you?

After a legal career, I am focussing my attention on the importance of education and the opportunities that are given to children in this regard. I am a parent Governor of 2 local schools. I am also involved in the local scouting organisation. I live in Reading with my husband and our son, who is 9 years old.

What is your role at ABC to read?

I am a member of the Board of Trustees.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to Read?

I have always loved reading and have passed this love onto my son who is an avid reader. Reading is a portal to other worlds and it is important to give children the opportunity to gain a love of books and to see the world through the eyes of a reader.

I saw a poster for ABC to Read in a local bookshop and investigated the website. By coincidence I saw a Twitter feed in which the organisation were asking people to become Trustees. As I believed that I had the required skills, I put myself forward for the role.

Which is your favourite children’s/adult’s book?

When I was a child I loved A.A Milne’s stories and poems. With my son I enjoyed reading Dr. Seuss’s ‘Oh,The Places You’ll Go’. As an adult, my favourite book is ‘Hotel New Hampshire’ by John Irving and my other favourite, and a book I retreat into, is ‘ Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen.

I have been a Reading Mentor with ABC for approx. 20 years.  And a Trustee too for around 10 years.  It is a real joy to help young children get the same pleasure out of books as I do. And my work with the Trustee Board has, I hope, contributed to their ongoing success.

After finishing work in the early 2000’s I realised I needed to fill the space left by working.  I started with ABC on the recommendation of my daughter; she’s a broadcast journalist and at that time she knew of the ‘young’ charity ABC.  She felt I would be a good candidate as ‘apparently’ I had been really supportive with her reading and managed to instill my love of reading/books.  Maybe influencing her career choice!

Around the same time, I also joined the Independent Monitoring Board for the Prison Service and spent many years doing that alongside ABC.  My work with the children provided a great balance with my challenging prison role.  Over the years I have worked with some great children who have responded so well to the relationship we are able to build around our reading sessions.  Seeing children progress to a good level of fluency, comprehension and understanding, in tandem with their teachers, has certainly been a real highlight in my life.

What do you want people to know about you?

I was born in Scotland and grew up in Manchester and the East Midlands where I met my wife, Clare. We moved to Wokingham in 1995 after I started to work for a small telecommunications company. We have two children, Jack,18, and Alice,15, who have both had a great experience growing up and being educated in Wokingham. I have worked in high tech companies for the last 20 years in Sales, Marketing and General Management, travelling extensively to see customers and employees in Asia, North America and Europe. I enjoy volunteering and have been active in Scouts, youth football and as a volunteer for the Link Community Scheme.

What is your role at ABC to read?

I joined ABC to read as a trustee in June 2018.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?

I first got visibility of ABC to Read through my wife who volunteered in local schools and then became a fieldworker. I saw and heard first hand about the huge benefits ABC to Read provides to children and schools across Berkshire. I aim to help support ABC to Read through my commercial background as ABC to read continues to grow and add increased value to the Berkshire community and children.

What do you want people to know about you?

Hello, I am Leorah Stewart. I am a soon to be graduate of the University of Reading, where I studied English Literature. I have been in Reading for 7 years now, but I grew up in North London and spent a year living abroad in Cape Town, South Africa when I was 13 which was a very formative experience for me!  South Africa is where I started my journey with voluntary work. I love reading fiction, painting, hiking and listening to educational podcasts on social issues. Equity in education is something I am very passionate about. This is what first drew me to the incredible work done by ABC to read.

What is your role at ABC to read?

I am a marketing trustee, and a grant writer and marketing intern.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?

I was looking for some work experience during my third and final year at the University of Reading and I stumbled across this internship with a local charity as part of the university’s internship scheme. I was thoroughly impressed and inspired by the work the charity was doing. It felt like a very important and personal cause as I deeply understand the ways socio-economic status influences education; from feeling disenfranchised, to not having access to the same opportunities or resources. When I heard I was accepted for an interview for the internship with ABC to read I was actually in a seminar on Margaret Atwood! Since working as an intern for the charity have come on board as a trustee to continue supporting the crucial work done by ABC to read. Reading is such a vital skill and I think everyone should have the opportunity to experience the comfort, thrill and goosebumps a good book can give you.

What is your favourite children’s book and adult book? (I noticed this question on the website but it was not on your list. I have answered it just in case you need me too!)

This is such a tough question and one that comes up a lot as a literature student!

So many books shaped my childhood. ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by LM Montgomery was a big one for me as my middle name is Anne (with an ‘e’) and I relate to all of Anne’s oddities and her connection to nature.

It is difficult to narrow it down to one book, but if I had to I would say ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernadine Evaristo which is such an important book and one I implore everyone to read!

What do you want people to know about you?Hannah McNicholl
I am a relatively recent Berkshire resident, having moved to Maidenhead with my husband and two young boys four years ago. I’ve enjoyed getting to know my surroundings and meeting new people in my community, including those at my son’s new school. My background is in marketing and communications, with experience in commercial banking, consultancy and most recently in the public sector. Outside of work and parenthood, I am passionate about nutrition and healthy living, and am currently studying to become a Culinary Nutrition Expert.

What is your role at ABC to read?
I have been a member of the Board of Trustees since June 2021.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?
I had felt for some time that I wanted to give something back to my community, and had been looking for a suitable opportunity to get involved with a charity I felt I could really support with my skills and experience. When I was sent details of ABC to read, their vision and mission really resonated with me. As a newish mum who struggled, like many, to homeschool during the pandemic, I grew to appreciate even more how the school environment and building children’s literacy and overall confidence can make such a vast difference to their happiness and success. I want to see all children in Berkshire have the attention and support they need to help them thrive, and I am excited to be working with such an enthusiastic team to help deliver this.

Which is your favourite children’s/adult’s book?
There are so many great books to choose from, for both adults and children. My eldest loves reading the ‘Alien’s love underpants’ series, and my youngest is a fan of anything by Julia Donaldson.

A book that I read many years back but always stuck with me was Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, and more recently I was blown away by Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

Our Employees

What do you want people to know about you?
Marcia Rowlinson

Marcia Rowlinson, I am married with two boys, have lived in Reading for 35 years and like to think I have settled well and supported the local community, after being born and brought up in Germany.  I come from a sales and marketing background mainly gained through a banking environment.

What is your role at ABC to read?

I am very proud to be working as the CEO of ABC to read and leading the charity into helping as many children as possible to become readers. I am very lucky be working with wonderful people who dedicate their time to make a difference to the lives of children in Berkshire with my initial focus.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?

I have welcomed the opportunity of working in an environment that supports and produces a significant improvement in a child’s reading ability and therefore in their life chances. As a parent who wants the best start for my children, and like most, I feel it is a shame that so many children in Berkshire start secondary school with a low reading ability. I am very much looking forward to working with you all and very much hope you can carry on helping us to continue such a valuable service.

What do you want people to know about you?

I live in Caversham Heights with my husband, Ben and my son, Sam.

I have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed a career in Human Resources for over 20 years, before taking time out to bring up my son and to care for my mum.

During this time, I became an AVON representative (which I still continue to do) and I also worked in a part-time role at a local Pre-school, as Business Administrator, and I really enjoyed my 7 years of working there.

In my spare time, I love meeting up with friends, I try to walk daily (aiming to achieve 10,000 steps a day but not always succeeding!) and I enjoy baking cakes and eating them!

What is your role at ABC to read?

I am the Office Manager, working part-time, 3 days per week (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday). I manage the administration for the charity and support the team as best I can.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?

I have seen for myself how important it is to read to children at a young age. We started reading to our son within the first week of him being born. “Dear Zoo” by Rod Campbell was a memorable favourite, and we continued to read to him, and with him, throughout his early and primary school years. He is now an avid reader although preferring to read on his own rather than his parents joining in!

I feel very fortunate to be have been given this opportunity to work for a local charity, with a wonderful and committed team of people, who are doing their very best to support the children in our community.

What is your role at ABC to read?

I am the Office Administrator, which involves the day to day running of the ABC office and to assist Tracy Donaldson the Office Manager.

I work seven hours a week and three hours of that, you will find me in the office on a Tuesday.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?

I was very fortunate to find out about this role and very excited to have been given this opportunity to work for a local charity, with a team of wonderful and committed colleagues that are supporting our local children in the community.

I always remembered my mother years ago used to take time out to read with the children at our local primary school who were either under achieving or needed that extra one to one, to give them more confidence.

What is your role at ABC to read?Lindsey Livingstone

I am the fieldworker responsible for Windsor, Slough, Langley, Maidenhead and Bracknell (East Berkshire).

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?

I started working for what was VRH (Volunteer Reading Help) as a volunteer reader in a school in Slough in 2003. I enjoyed volunteering and wanted to do more for what became ABC to Read, so I became a fieldworker in 2004. I volunteer because I enjoy working with children and I am passionate about books and reading.

What do you want people to know about you?
I originally come from Bristol but have lived in the Reading area for more than 20 years. I live at home with my husband, daughter, son and my dog – a golden retriever.

I enjoy long country walks in the winter , sailing in the summer and reading any time of year! My book group are now in our 13 th year of reading together!

What is your role?
As Fieldworker for central Berkshire, I am the link person between ABC to read, volunteers and schools in Caversham, Earley and Reading.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?
I have always been passionate about books and children’s literature. In the past I have worked for a book publisher and been a volunteer at my local school. I also have first hand experience of trying to help a dyslexic child (my son) who struggles to read and enjoy books.

What do you want people to know about you?Laura Clayton

Hi, my name is Laura Clayton and I live in Newbury with my husband, two children and cat called Piglet. My son is eight and loves Minecraft and my daughter is eleven and is growing up far too fast.

I grew up in Pangbourne and apart from my years up in Newcastle at university and a short stint in South Devon, I have lived in West Berkshire all my life.

I am Vice-Chair of the PTA at my children’s school and have spent time over the years as a parent volunteer listening to children read.

In our spare time we love exploring local playgrounds, parks and anywhere we can play and have fun.

What is your role at ABC to read?

I am the Fieldworker for the west of West Berkshire: Thatcham, Newbury and Hungerford and the surrounding villages.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read?

When I saw the Fieldworker position advertised I knew immediately that it would be a perfect fit. Reading is such a vital life skill, both for education and work, but more importantly for pleasure. Supporting a dedicated team of volunteers to help grow children’s confidence and skill in this area feels so worthwhile.

What do you want people to know about you?
I moved to Berkshire after finishing university and have lived here ever since with my husband and three children. As soon as my youngest son started in Nursery I became both a parent volunteer listening to children read and became a school governor at my children’s school. I’ve since become the Chair of Governors and five years later I’m still going in to school each week to listen to readers! In my free time I love to keep myself active through running and classes.

What is your role at ABC to read
I am the fieldworker for Bracknell and Wokingham.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read
I’ve been aware of ABC to read and their work for a while and so was very excited to see this role become available, as its a subject very close to my heart. After a degree in English Literature I passionately believe every child should have the ability to lose themselves between the pages of a good book and I have loved having the opportunity through being a parent reader to help children discover they not only can have this skill but also find that book that opens their eyes to a whole new world.

What do you want people to know about you?Jill Drury

I am passionate about books and teaching young people to read and have worked in education and the charity sector all my working life.

I am a mother to three grown up sons and granny to a one year old granddaughter.  I also have a husband and a 6 month old Labrador puppy!

In my spare time I love to walk with my husband in the beautiful countryside we have around us.  I’m also a rower and a beekeeper.

What is your role at ABC to read

I am now one of two Field Workers for West Berkshire.

How and why did you get involved with ABC to read

I got involved with ABC to read when we moved to West Berkshire last year when I became a volunteer.  I wanted to become more rooted in my local community and to spend time with children and young people who always give you such a positive outlook on life.